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Logo of bmcphBioMed Centralsearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBMC Public Health
BMC Public Health. 2012; 12: 836.
Published online 2012 October 2. doi:  10.1186/1471-2458-12-836
PMCID: PMC3485196

The effect a of community-based social marketing campaign on recruitment and retention of low-income groups into physical activity programmes - a controlled before-and-after study



The beneficial effect of physical activity for the prevention of a range of chronic diseases is widely acknowledged. These conditions are most prevalent in low-income groups where physical activity levels are consistently lower. Social marketing is the government’s recommended approach to promoting physical activity but evidence of its effectiveness is limited. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of a social marketing campaign on the monthly recruitment, attendance and retention levels at a community-based physical activity programme in a low income area.


A six-month social marketing campaign was designed and delivered in a highly-deprived suburban neighbourhood. Analysis of variance was used to assess effects on recruitment and attendance. χ2 tests of independence were used to compare dropouts and adherers and effectiveness of recruitment mechanisms. Percentages were used to compare adherence rates at intervention, pre-existing sessions in the intervention area and control area sessions.


Attendance data were collected weekly and presented and analysed monthly to provide a view of changing participation over the six month intervention period, as compared to attendance at pre-existing sessions in the intervention area and in a control area. Recruitment into intervention sessions was significantly greater than into pre-existing and control area sessions in Month 1 (18.13v1.04 p = .007, 18.13v.30 p=.005), Month 5 (3.45v.84 p=.007, 3.45v.30 p<.001) and Month 6 (5.60v.65 p<.001, 5.60v.25 p<.001). Attendance at intervention sessions was significantly greater in all six months than at pre-existing and control area sessions; Month 1 (38.83v7.17 p<.001, 38.83v4.67, p<.001), Month 2 (21.45v6.20 p<.001, 21.45v4.00, p<.001), Month 3 (9.57v6.15 p<.001, 9.57v3.77, p<.001), Month 4 (17.35v7.31 p<.001, 17.35v4.75, p<.001), Month 5 (20.33v8.81 p=.007, 20.33v4.54 p<.001) and Month 6 (28.72v8.28 p<.001, 28.72v.4.00 p<.001). Drop-out rates in the intervention area were similar to the control area (66.2%v69.9%), and considerably lower than in pre-existing sessions (83%). In months one and two, traditional marketing techniques (posters/outdoor banners/flyers) had the greatest influence on recruitment compared to word of mouth communication (84.5%v15.5%). In months five and six word of mouth influenced 57.5% of new recruits.


Direct comparisons with other programmes were difficult due to a lack of standard definitions of recruitment and adherence and limited reporting of findings. However when compared to pre-existing sessions and sessions delivered in a control area, monthly attendance patterns indicated that a reasonably well funded social marketing campaign increased recruitment into exercise sessions, maintained good levels of attendance and reasonable levels of adherence. Good attendance levels support on-going campaign success by offering evidence of peer and social support for the activity and increasing opportunities for social interaction. They also increase the capacity and reach of the word of mouth communication channels, the most effective form of promotion. Further study into methods of improving exercise adherence is required.

Keywords: Social marketing, Physical activity, Exercise, Recruitment, Retention, Adherence, Community, Low income, Economically deprived

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